Now that we are experiencing a momentous shift in how the convenience store industry operates is clear, but where do we go from here?
As the convenience channel, the overall retail industry and the world get turned upside down, what happens in the next generation of stores? What are the architecture considerations? What are the operational considerations? Where are the trends going, especially given "the new normal" as a result of COVID-19?
Marty Wolfe, IBM's vice president and chief technology officer for the retail, consumer products and agribusiness industries, believes the changes fall into four overarching buckets: customer expectations, new competition, changing complexity on how you operate stores, and increased costs.
"Changing how the store operates, the changing consumer needs, has a real impact on what happens in the store itself," Wolfe said, presenting during the recent Conexxus 2020 Annual Education & Strategy Conference. "Technology in the store will scale differently based on the behavior of consumers."
Many principles of the channel's new normal revolve around the concept of contactless and not going into the physical store as often. As Wolfe noted: "The idea of contactless, the idea of touchless, the idea of not going into the store nearly as much will likely persist throughout all of 2020 and 2021 to some level."
So, what does it take to make an existing store — or future store — more agile?
Wolfe explained that there are a number of things convenience retailers need to be concerned about; areas that can inhibit, or have already done so up to this point.
"If we think about it from a technology perspective, there are physical store limitations, the layout of the store, the planogram of the store, the deployment of staff within the store, the movement of inventory," he said. "Then, there are the underlying technical problems as well."
Technical problems include: complex IT environments, lack of internal resources, aging hardware, continual updates/patches, and budget issues, he noted.
There is an opportunity, however, for retailers to apply new technologies that enable rapid innovation, hyper and local experiences, and new operating models, he added.
Thinking about future trends, Wolfe said the most important break down into six areas:
- Channel shifts: not just digital, but multiple touchpoints.
- Anytime, anywhere: consumers shop in "micro moments" and expect a seamless personal experience.
- Asset-light model: cloud-based and SaaS capability delivered for rapid deployment, as well as gig models for service and ecosystem.
- Partnership: third-party brand for marketing, merchandise and operations.
- Intelligent operations: real-time artificial intelligence (AI) enabled operations.
- Automation: AI, IoT and robotics.
The Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference was held virtually in August. Based in Alexandria, Va., Conexxus is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and retail fueling market.